I have always been a proponent of the concept “less is more” when it comes to horror films. For me, the horror films with the least amount of violence, no proper glimpses of the monster and that build up tension through the fear of danger are the ones that get under my skin. A great example of this I can think of was 2013’s The Conjuring (particularly this scene, if you dare watch it), which primarily hid the spirits and never actually harmed anyone until its climactic scenes.
But, like most cinematic rules, they can be broken and be equally as effective; and the indie horror film It Follows showed me one can defy my “barely glimpse the monster” rule and get so far under my skin that I feel it ought to have bought me dinner first.
Now Showing this week is It Follows, written and directed by David Robert Mitchell. After a night of back-seat-of-car sex with her new boyfriend Hugh, teenager Jay Height (Maika Monroe) discovers their relationship was all a ruse so he could pass on the curse of being hunted by some unknown entity. Hugh tells Jay that “It” will follow her, no matter where she is, and it will appear to be a person. It could be a stranger, it could be a friend, but it is always walking in her direction and it will not stop until it catches her. The only advice Hugh can give is to quickly pass it on to someone else, because if “It” kills her, it will go back up the chain and come after him.
I’m going to come out and say it, It Follows is one of the best horror films I have seen in a good long time. I have not felt so terrified in ages; that kind of terror where your heart is leaping out of your chest and your fingers reflexively dig into your thighs until you’re certain you’ve drawn blood. It Follows doesn’t rely on jump-scare terror (although there are some in there, because it is a horror film after all), but more frightens you by making you want to run. I know the story idea may sound a little silly/urban-legendy on paper, but in practice, once combined with some excellent filmmaking techniques, it is nightmarishly terrifying.
Actually, that is the best way I can think of to describe why It Follows was so effective: it is almost structured like a nightmare. Scenes take place in familiar areas, at school, home, the local pool etc. And as “It” is completely unrelenting in its travels. No matter where the characters run to or what time of day it is, you never once feel comfortable because at any moment it could arrive. And when it does, the various people it takes the form of move with such a automaton-like focus, with a vacant yet ominous stare, that will make your skin crawl (one instance where “It” was an old woman will forever be seared into my brain!).
Again, “less is more”. The monster is nothing but a person walking, but It Follows gives us a reason to fear it. Simple and very effective.
Context and performance aspects are one thing, but director David Robert Mitchell implemented some excellent cinematic tricks to further raise the tension. Rather than adhering to the rule of thirds (here’s a rather phallic example), Mitchell opted to shoot a lot of moments from a semi-character perspective, framing “It” in the centre of the image, creating the feeling that it is coming for you in the theatre. I won’t deny I instinctively lent back in my chair several times! The other great technological element was the soundtrack. Composed by “Disasterpeace”, the soundtrack was comprised of heavy 80s synth, and at almost too high a volume which lead to a feeling of pressure and adrenaline.
Narratively the film does pretty well, dealing with some interesting themes all of which centre around sex. We know sex is a huge part of the horror genre, but mainly in them having sex appeal before everyone gets disembowelled. It Follows, on the other hand, works sex into its monster with it essentially being a sexually transmitted disease and manifesting occasionally as people in some state of undress. The film also deals with the issue of “slut shaming” through a side character having a crush on Jay, and knowing her sleeping with other men got her into this mess/might get her out of it. These elements are shown rather than told, which makes the characters come across as very bleak yet genuine in a weird sort of way. Not the most in depth characters I’ve ever seen, but higher up than most other horror films.
Bottom line, It Follows is one hell of an experience. The climax was a little weak compared to the lead up to it, but it still had enough tension in it for me to enjoy it all the same. Casual fans of the odd scary film might have a hard time with it (like I said it is unrelenting in its terror) but if you love the feeling of inescapable dread and yearn for a fresh take on the genre then look no further.
The film is only in a limited release at the moment, so get on it quickly!
See you next time.